These annual pieces I do summarizing the best feminist films of the past year are really misnamed. They should be called the 10 Films Linda saw that she can find at least some justification for callling "feminist" and liked the best in 1996. I'm sure there are some others that would be on this list if they had come to Tampa, Florida and I had seen them. I'm even more sure there are some on my list that wouldn't be on someone else's and may even draw ire. C'est la vie. That's what it's like to be a non-professional, part-time, feminist film critic in 1997. I hope my list will serve the purpose of reminding people about some good items in the "Women and Film" category that they might want to catch on video if they missed them in the theaters.
1. Number one on my list, and not just because I'm doing them in alphabetical order, is Marleen Gorris's great, magical chronicle of a family of strong women, " Antonia's Line." (I know it was made in 1995 but it didn't hit Tampa until 1996). What a career of feminist filmmaking Gorris has had; she may be mellowing out a little, but that only serves to make her unwavering feminist vision accessible to a larger audience.
2. " Bound." Hardly a feminist film, you might say, but this modern day film noir about two women who take on the mob while finding each other and at least for the time being succeed is a "comeuppance film" of major proportions. Like much hip contemporary filmmaking it revels in excessive and aesthetecized violence, and that may turn you off, but the characterizations of the two women are almost worth wading through the blood and guts for.
3. At the other end of the spectrum is Jane Austen's " Emma" with a luminescent performance in the title role by Gwenyth Paltrow. If you like Austen's way of studying the virtues and vices of the 19th C. English minor gentry under an slightly ironic microscope you'll enjoy this one. It certainly beats all versions of "Clueless" an updated version of the same material.
4. " The First Wives Club." That this film makes my list is perhaps testimony to the paucity of films with clearly feminist intentions. I thought it was a bit of a disappointment (measured against what it could have been, i.e., pointed and funny) and that it's feminism was, as they say in acting classes, "indicated" rather than genuinely felt. But, hey, at least it was there. And for some of us the old pro professionalism of Bette Midler, Diane Keaton, and Goldie Hawn is always worth watching.
5. " From the Journals of Jean Seberg." This was one of the most unusual and interesting films I've ever seen. Mary Beth Hurt plays Jean Seberg as she would be today had she lived, looking back over the tragedy of her short life in which she was "discovered" by Otto Preminger in Iowa and cast as the lead in his version of Joan of Arc, her brief successes in the French New Wave and her decline and early demise. It's insightful and a strong indictment of patriarchal values.
6. " Harriet the Spy." That rare commodity, a great film for girls with a smart and active girls in the hero role who has Rosie O'Donnell to counsel and guide her. It inspired my "date" for the evening, a bright six year old, to want to learn, learn, learn so she could grow up to be a spy like Harriet one day.
7. " I Shot Andy Warhol." Another off beat and fascinating film about a real person from the early Women's Movement, Valerie Solanis, author of "The SCUM Manifesto." Filmmaker Mary Harron gets an inspired performance from Lili Taylor as the controversial and disturbed Solanis. It's great news that this chapter in recent feminist history has been dramatized and brought back into focus in such an understanding and humane manner.
8. " Late Bloomers" This is a modest film filled with great good will and kindness about two 40ish women who, somehow, find each other and fall in love with the help of basketball! Definitely the feel-good film of the year at various Gay and Lesbian film festivals.
9. " The Monkey Kid." This sweet and somewhat daring film depicts a year in filmmaker Xiao-Yen Wang's childhood in Beijing during the depths of the Cultural Revolution when her schoolteacher parents were sent away to work in the fields and the children were forced to stay home and fend for themselves. It's also a paean to the strength and guidance of her mother who was willing to take great risks to teach her girls the culture the government so vehemently condemned.
10. " Tender Fictions" by Barbara Hammer. One of the best reasons to go to gay and lesbian film festivals, in my view, is that you may get to see another film by longtime lesbian experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer. This year brought a really fascinating film in which, totally cognizant of all the post-modern arguments for the impossibility of achieving anything approaching truth in autobiographical narrative, Hammer nonetheless tells us her life story (and so much more). A film to savor and contemplate for years.
That's ten. If I had eleven I'd remind you, too, of Secrets and Lies.
For the WMNF "Women's Show" this has been Linda Lopez McAlister on Women and Film.
Copyright 1997 by Linda Lopez McAlister. All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce this summary without getting permission from the author: firstname.lastname@example.org
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